Railroad Newsline for Friday, June 22, 2007
Compiled by Larry W. Grant
In Memory of Rob Carlson, 1952 – 2006
CREWS WORK TO REPAIR TRACKS AFTER DERAILMENT
LAKE PARK, MN --
The westbound and eastbound train tracks near Lake Park, Minnesota, should be operating again by Friday morning, officials said.
The tracks have been closed since Wednesday afternoon, when 10 cars of the westbound BNSF Railway Company freight train Z-CHCSSE2-20A derailed. No one was injured.
Crews are continuing to clear the tracks Thursday and replace the rails and railroad ties, said Steve Forsberg, BNSF regional director of public affairs.
The eastbound main track two was returned to service at 7:00 p.m. CT, Thursday, June 21, 2007. The current projection for main track one opening is 4:00 p.m. CT, Friday, June 22, 2007, Forsberg said.
The cause of the accident is under investigation, he said. - Kathy Daum, The Fargo Forum and BNSF Service Advisory
RAILROAD PLANS TO ADD TRACKS
SIOUX FALLS, SD --
Private investors are stepping forward and the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad expects to begin construction next year on about 200 miles of new rail line, chief executive officer Kevin Schieffer said.
The company failed to get a $2.3 billion federal loan to rebuild existing track and add new line to Wyoming's Powder River Basin coal mines.
The work that went into project design and securing contractors' bids is now being presented to private investors, and the amount of private capital available has substantially increased in the past three years, he said.
Schieffer said pursuing the federal loan "has given the project a financibility that even in this hot market it probably wouldn't have had. ... It made it a very strong project to bring out in a very strong market."
While "I would never say never" to beginning construction this summer, "next year will be the first major year of construction," Schieffer said.
He downplayed a recent trade journal article that said the DM&E is dealing with about 10 potential financiers, including the Canadian National railroad and the Canadian Pacific Railway.
"First of all, I would caution there is too much speculation in that area," he said. "There are a lot of noncarrier funds extremely ready, willing and able to invest in this."
As part of a $100 million capital program, the DM&E will upgrade 110 miles of the rail line in Minnesota and South Dakota this year.
"That's a record for us," Schieffer said.
The $6 billion Powder River Basin project would rebuild 600 miles of track across South Dakota and Minnesota and add 260 miles of new track around the southern end of the Black Hills to reach Wyoming's Powder River Basin. It would haul low-sulfur coal eastward to power plants.
Schieffer said the coal train expansion was conceived as a way to develop sufficient traffic for the DM&E to pay for rebuilding its decrepit line.
Since then, the DM&E acquired a sister line to the east, the Iowa, Chicago & Eastern, and the combined line has become the largest Class II carrier in the U.S.
"This company has grown into a very different kind of company than it was 10 years ago, and there is an awful lot to put at risk today," Schieffer said.
"I am absolutely committed, some days almost maniacally, to get the PRB (Powder River Basin) project built. But I will never put this railroad at risk to do it," he said. "It's an incredible success story, the baseline railroad. It has been a home run." - The Associated Press, The Billings Gazette
BNSF ISSUES PRB COAL UPDATE FOR JUNE 20, 2007
Loadings Fall Short of Expectations at Most PRB Mines
June average daily BNSF train loadings for the Powder River Basin (PRB), including Wyoming and Montana mines, stand at 49.7 trains per day through June 19, 2007, compared with an average of 50.6 trains per day for the same period in 2006. Weather issues and planned and unplanned outages at some mines resulted in the loss of an average of 5.6 train-loading opportunities per day during the first 19 days of June 2007.
BNSF train loadings by three of five mining companies in the PRB have fallen short of projections for this month. Through June 19 and including lost loading opportunities attributable to both mine and railroad issues, one company's mines have loaded 75.6 percent of planned trains, another 86.9 percent of plan and a third 88.5 percent of plan. Of the two other mining companies, one loaded 103.0 percent of planned trains and the other 100.7 percent of plan.
Year-to-date through June 19, 2007, BNSF has loaded a total daily average of 49.0 trains in the PRB, up approximately 1 percent from the 48.7 trains loaded through the same period in 2006.
Systemwide, BNSF has loaded a total of 132.4 million tons through June 19, 2007, roughly 2 percent above the 2006 year-to-date total of 130.2 million tons. - BNSF Today
CN ORDERS 65 NEW LOCOMOTIVES, DOUBLING 2007-2008 TOTAL TO 130 NEW UNITS
MONTREAL, QC --
The Canadian National Railway announced Thursday it will acquire 65 new fuel-efficient, high-horsepower locomotives in 2007 and 2008, in addition to 65 locomotives already on order for delivery this year.
CN’s latest orders are for 40 ES44DC locomotives from GE Transportation Rail, a unit of General Electric Company, and 25 SD70M-2 locomotives from Electro-Motive Diesel, Inc. The GE units will be delivered between December 2007 and February 2008, with the EMDs arriving in August 2008.
CN previously ordered 50 SD70M-2s for delivery between August and October 2007, and 15 ES44DC units to come in November of this year. The SD70M-2s produce 4,300 horsepower, the ES44DCs 4,400 horsepower.
E. Hunter Harrison, president and chief executive officer, said: “The new locomotives will help CN to improve the efficiency and reliability of its fleet, reduce fuel consumption significantly and lower exhaust emissions. Rail is the environmentally friendly mode, and our new locomotives will further enhance our environmental performance.
“The new units are about 15 per cent more fuel efficient than the locomotives they will replace, and will comply fully with the latest regulatory requirements for reduced locomotive emissions.
The latest locomotive orders announced today will permit CN to retire 145 older locomotives.”
The new locomotive orders are part of a major fuel conservation program by CN, which spent almost C$900 million on fuel in 2006.
The 65 locomotives CN previously ordered for this year will be largely used to accommodate growth in traffic from the new Port of Prince Rupert container terminal, scheduled to start operations in October of this year.
All of the 130 new locomotives CN has ordered for 2007 and 2008 will be equipped with distributed power capability, which allows them to be placed in the middle of a freight train and to be remotely controlled from the lead locomotive.
Distributed power technology improves fuel efficiency and train handling, and permits CN to maximize the productivity gains associated with its extended siding program. - Mark Hallman, CN News Release
RAILROAD SHIPPING: AAR SAYS TOTAL WEEKLY FREIGHT VOLUMES ARE DOWN 1.1 PERCENT
Carload freight and intermodal traffic on United States railroads were both down for the week ending June 16 compared to the same timeframe last year, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported Thursday.
The AAR said that intermodal volume totaled 240,002 trailers or containers for the week ending June 16, which was down 2.3 percent from the corresponding week in 2006. Intermodal container volume was down 0.3 percent, and intermodal trailer volume was down 11.1 percent.
And carload freight, which does not include intermodal data, came in at 339,670 cars for the week, down 1.8 percent from the same week last year. Carload loadings were down 1.3 percent in the west and 2.4 percent in the east. The AAR said total volume was estimated at 34.5 billion ton-miles, which is down 1.1 percent from 2006.
Of the 19 carload commodity groups tracked by the AAR, 10 were down from last year, with lumber & wood products down 18.0 percent and lumber and metals & products down 14.5 percent. Nonmetallic minerals were up 9.0 percent, and petroleum products were up 6.6 percent.
The AAR said that cumulative volume for the first 24 weeks of 2007 totaled 7,757,778 carloads, which was down 4.3 percent from 2006. Trailers or containers were down at 1.3 percent at 5,469,789, and the total volume of an estimated 789.4 billion ton-miles was down 3.0 percent. - Logistics Management
SHOOTING SUSPECT TAKES HOSTAGES AT ILLINOIS BANK; DISRUPTS AMTRAK SERVICE –- INCIDENT ENDS PEACEFULLY
ARCOLA, IL --
A hostage situation at a central Illinois bank forced the evacuation of area buildings and disrupted Amtrak service to southern Illinois.
An Amtrak spokesman says buses are being used Thursday afternoon to shuttle passengers between Carbondale and Chicago.
A man wanted in an ambush attack that left a sheriff's deputy critically wounded stormed inside the bank and took five hostages Thursday after a gunfire-filled chase through Illinois farm country that reached speeds of more than 100 mph.
Authorities surrounded the First Mid-Illinois Bank and Trust in this town of 2,600, where horse-drawn buggies of Old Order Amish and tractors are a familiar sight.
The suspect released four hostages unharmed throughout the hours-long standoff, authorities said.
"We have had contact with the (suspect) in the bank. At this time I'm unsure of what he wants," State Police Sgt. Bill Emery said. "Our plan is to talk to the subject. We want this to be as peaceful as possible."
Authorities said they were unsure of the condition of the remaining hostage, a male bank employee, or whether the suspect was armed.
Authorities would not identify the hostage, but family members said he's 27-year-old bank manager Brad Pullen.
His aunt, Cindy Pullen, said she and other family members were awaiting news of the situation inside a local bar and grill owned by Brad Pullen's 69-year-old grandfather, who also was taken hostage but later was released. She said Brad Pullen has a son who was born in March.
"We're just kind of hanging together right now," she said. "Kinda scary."
Emery said at a Thursday afternoon news conference that hostage negotiators had asked state police to release few new details because talks with the suspect were going well.
"Negotiators are trained to talk. If it takes all day, all night, that's what we're going to do," Emery said.
The situation began at about 9:30 a.m. when a state trooper on Interstate 57, about 12 miles from Arcola, pulled over a silver Infiniti for having windows tinted too darkly. The trooper radioed for a drug-sniffing dog to be brought to the scene and the suspects fled, Emery said.
Because there was no violent crime or threat of a violent crime, the trooper was not allowed under State Police policy to give chase, Emery said. An hour later, the two men robbed a home in nearby Camargo and stole a van, leaving the silver car behind.
Soon after, Douglas County sheriff's deputy Tom Martin pulled the van over and was shot in the face and torso as he walked up to the vehicle, Emery said. Authorities said Martin, though critically wounded, was able to call in the attack as the suspects fled, and the chase was on.
The van reached speeds of more than 100 mph, Emery said, and gunfire from the vehicle struck an Illinois State Police car in the windshield. The driver lost control of the vehicle as it careered over railroad tracks in Arcola, and the two men abandoned it.
One fled into the nearby bank. The other suspect, a 23-year-old man, was taken into custody but had not yet been charged. It wasn't immediately clear to authorities which suspect shot the deputy.
Arcola, about 150 miles south of Chicago, is home to an Old Order Amish settlement. The rural area features Amish homes, business and schools. It is also the hometown of Johnny Gruelle, creator of the Raggedy Ann and Andy characters in the early part of the last century.
"This does not happen in our little town," said Paul Harshbarger, owner of Midwest Mobile Stages. Just a block from the bank, Harshbarger and his staff were trying to conduct business as usual as SWAT trucks and police with shotguns zoomed by.
"It's actually inconvenient for business today," he said. "We've just been hanging out inside here taking care of what we got to do."
The situation at the bank unfolded so quickly that police ordered crews building a grain elevator next door to abandon their still-running equipment, Harshbarger said. The tractors, compressors and backhoes were left to run until they run out of gas.
The man who was wanted in a shooting that wounded a sheriff's deputy and later took five hostages in a bank surrendered late Thursday, authorities said.
The standoff, which occurred after a high-speed chase through Illinois farm country, ended peacefully around 7 p.m., Arcola Police Chief Mike Phillip said.
The man had released four hostages unharmed throughout the hours-long standoff at the First Mid-Illinois Bank and Trust. The last hostage, who family members identified as 27-year-old bank manager Brad Pullen, also was unharmed, Emery said. He walked out with the suspect, authorities said. - David Mercer, The Northwest Indiana Times, and The Associated Press, WQAD-TV8, Moline, IL
FACE OF EDWARDS CHANGING WITH SPAN'S UPGRADE
Caption reads: Hill Brothers Construction Company employees work to demolish the famous wooden bridge in Edwards, Mississippi. (Brian Loden/The Vicksburg Post)
EDWARDS, MS --
A landmark bridge that appeared in the 2000 movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” is being demolished, and a section of Mississippi 467 will be renovated to make room for a concrete replacement.
Built in 1929, the arched wooden bridge that crosses Kansas City Southern rails in the middle of town will be replaced by a new superstructure, according to Chris Dean, project superintendent for Hill Brothers Construction Company of Falkner.
“From all I've heard, it's the second-worst bridge in the state,” Dean said. “Only cars and (pickup) trucks can pass because of the weight limit.”
Tearing down the wooden bridge could take four months, he said.
“The existing road is going to be pulled out, and we're going to put in some concrete, sidewalks and handrails. We'll also cover the dirt work, pilings, retainer wall and prep work for the new bridge.”
The new structure will be built by Hill Brothers, KCS spokesman Doniele Kane said. “The bridge project is funded entirely by Kansas City Southern Railway Company,” she said. “Hill Brothers is doing the construction of the bridge.”
Kane, who did not disclose how much is being spent, also said the company, which maintained the wooden bridge, may eventually build a dual rail through Edwards. The new bridge would accommodate that expansion.
“KCS is providing an opening for a second track, but does not plan to build a second track immediately,” she said.
The concrete bridge “will have a decorative block face and will be more offset to the north than the wooden bridge,” Dean said.
Nancy Duren, Edwards' deputy town clerk, has lived in the community for 73 years. She said she and others are not happy to see the wooden bridge destroyed.
“The people here love the bridge, and we hate to see it torn down, but progress has to go forth,” she said. “It's just a landmark.”
It is a landmark, indeed, especially for Duren. Having moved to Edwards when she was 3 years old, the bridge has always been a part of her life.
“I'm quite familiar with this railroad,” she said. “We walked to school on those railroad tracks, and I had the utmost respect for them. I've come full circle.”
When she was 17, she started working at the Bank of Edwards. Nearly two decades later, she retired and eventually returned to the building that now houses Town Hall on Front Street.
“As you can see, we're in the same building that used to be the Bank of Edwards,” Duren said, pointing to a pair of glass doors still marking the bank's name. “Edwards was a booming town.”
As was the case for many towns on federal highways, the busy atmosphere began to fade in the 1960s when the Interstate system started moving people around towns instead of through them.
“Edwards went down when the interstate came in and pulled traffic away from the community,” Duren said. “It took away from the economy. We had nine grocery stores in the 1960s.”
No grocery stores are in Edwards today, but some downtown businesses got temporary facelifts when portions of “O Brother” were filmed.
“It was wild,” Duren said, smiling. “They had bunches of people here. Vehicles and trailers were parked all over the place. They came out here and painted some signs and the murals, some of which you can still see.”
The “O Brother” story, loosely based on Homer's the Odyssey, is set in 1937 Mississippi and stars George Clooney, Holly Hunter, John Goodman and others. The movie's American roots music soundtrack won a Grammy for Album of the Year.
After the filming, Edwards returned to normalcy and, within months, a structure that has remained through decades of ups-and-downs will be gone.
“People come from everywhere, and they stop and take pictures because the bridge is unique,” Duren said. “Everybody is just fascinated with the bridge. It used to be flat, but when the trains started double-stacking the cars, they had to raise the bridge. People don't like that part of it.”
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 1,375 wooden bridges were in Mississippi as of December 2006. - Paul Bryant, The Vicksburg Post
BNSF WORKS OF ART: MIMBRENO CHINA BROUGHT ELEGANT AUTHENTICITY TO RAILROAD DINING
When we think of the railroad, we quickly associate key components of the ever-evolving transportation industry… railroad tracks and crossings, locomotives and more.
However, what most don’t consider when they think of the railroad are dainty linens, stylishly polished silver and fine china. But even the railroad featured its share of elaborate wining and dining.
In the first half of the 20th century, the Santa Fe’s luxury passenger service set standards for the entire industry. Elegantly appointed dining cars, chef-prepared meals and excellent service combined to pamper cross-country travelers aboard the Super Chief and other legendary Santa Fe luxury liners.
The Santa Fe’s Mimbreńo china pattern was created in 1936 to add exotic Native American authenticity to the early Santa Fe dining experience.
Fred Harvey, a hospitality entrepreneur, had earlier developed the Harvey House lunch rooms, restaurants, souvenir shops and hotels that served rail passengers on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. To further differentiate and distinguish the Santa Fe dining cars, he added custom-designed china.
Beginning in 1936, Harvey commissioned Mary Colter, a 35-year veteran of the Santa Fe affiliate Fred Harvey Company, to design china and silverware for Santa Fe’s premiere all-Pullman sleeping car train, the Super Chief.
Colter utilized her background in architecture and Indian art to create the china pattern based on the Native American pictographs of animals and geometric patterns by the thirteenth century Mimbres Indians of the Rio Mimbres Valley in southwestern New Mexico. Although the Mimbres disappeared suddenly in 1250, they left behind more than 6,000 pots decorated with designs reflecting their hunter/gathering culture. Whimsical turkeys, fish, running quail, birds and turtles graced the place settings. The New Mexico "sun sign" from the Zia pueblo ringed the dinner plates.
The Mimbreńo china pattern made its debut aboard the dining car Cochiti in 1937 and remained the pattern of the Super Chief until Santa Fe turned passenger operations over to Amtrak.
The dishware was produced between 1936 and 1970 by Onondaga Pottery Co., more commonly known as Syracuse China, of Syracuse, NY The bottom of each piece is marked "Made expressly for Santa Fe Dining Car Service."
Today, original pieces of the Santa Fe relic are on display in BNSF’s Visitor’s Gallery and the Marketing Operations Building in Fort Worth. - BNSF Today
REJUVENATING RAILROAD DAYS; ORGANIZERS LOOK FOR WAYS TO REKINDLE FESTIVAL'S FEVER
GALESBURG, IL --
As Railroad Days celebrates 30 years of existence this weekend, the event's council chairman is looking ahead.
Dennis Clark, who has been at the helm of the event the past three years, envisions a Railroad Days that attracts 15,000 people or more, has stages of live music and a variety of high-end crafts along Tompkins Street from the depot to Standish Park -- and continues to focus on telling the stories of Galesburg, from the railroad to Carl Sandburg.
"Railroad Days is not what it used to be. Nothing is," Clark said. "But everything has to evolve. Our focus right now is to change and evolve Railroad Days into what it ought to be."
What it ought to be, Clark said, is an event for local people and out of town visitors to have fun and to learn more about Galesburg.
"It should be a celebration in this community," Clark said. "It's a chance for people to learn more about their own place. How can you tell people about where you're from if you don't know about it yourself?"
Railroad Days began in the mid-1970s as an open house for Burlington Northern employees.
But in March 1978, BN officials announced the event would be open to the community, with tours of the railyard and displays of locomotives and railroad equipment serving as the main attractions.
Over the next few years, the number of events grew -- and so did the number of people who attended to Railroad Days for events like bed and outhouse races, water fights, a Civil War re-enactment and tours of Galesburg's historic sites and neighborhoods.
By 1982, the Gandy Olympics had joined the line-up as another train-centric event. Named after the term "Gandy dancer," an old name for a railroad worker or a section worker, the BN-sponsored games featured dozens of railroad workers competing in spike-driving and track-laying contests.
Railroad Days continued to grow through the 1980s and 1990s, reaching a high point when 3-on-3 basketball and slam dunk competitions were held on Main Street, drawing thousands of spectators.
By 2001, no events were held on Main Street and by 2004, the Galesburg Chamber of Commerce was no longer officially affiliated with the event. The task of organizing and reviving the festival became the responsibility of the all-volunteer Railroad Days Council.
In 2003 and 2004, there were no on-track displays at the depot because of rising liability insurance costs. A contract was worked out with BNSF in 2005 to use the track and bring back the displays, which had been a big draw in the past -- and will be back again this year.
Tours of the railyard also briefly disappeared, but have been back for several years.
While organizers reported up to 70,000 people were attending Railroad Days in its biggest years, Clark said he thinks those numbers were drastically inflated.
Clark said attendance certainly has gone down since the heyday -- with last year's attendance estimated between 5,000 and 10,000 -- but he said it's more likely there were 20,000 to 25,000 attendees in the years of the 3-on-3 tournament.
Last year, around 3,500 people attended the Model Train and Railroadiana Show at Carl Sandburg College and 1,700 people took tours of the railyard. Clark said he doesn't think a very high percentage of those people were from the Galesburg area.
He said the railyard bus tours, train show and on-track displays attract visitors from out of town, but live music attracts more local people. He would like to bring a bluegrass show to next year's Railroad Days, to add to the live music in the beer garden and the Main Line Country Music Show and gospel concert scheduled this year.
"Music can pull more local people out," Clark said. "People want to see something new. They want to enjoy different varieties of food and they want to be entertained."
Clark is expecting up to 10,000 visitors to Railroad Days this weekend.
"We are so weather dependent," Clark said, noting that the heat can make or break the weekend. "But if you have a lemon shake-up and are in the shade, it's never that bad." - Jane Carlson, The Galesburg Register-Mail
BENTON MEETS WITH RAIL OFFICIALS
BENTON COUNTY, OR --
Benton County might soon have a letter from Union Pacific Railroad that says the railroad is willing to work with the county in designing a multi-use path along the rail line between North Albany and Corvallis.
Benton Commissioner Linda Modrell and other county officials met Tuesday with a UP representative, as well as officials from Portland & Western Railroad and the city of Albany at Albany City Hall. Earlier this year, the Oregon Department of Transportation awarded the county a $460,000 grant to study possible routes for this path and secure right-of-way.
ODOT required the county to get Portland & Western, which operates the rail line, and UP, which owns the line, on board for the study before the money is awarded. P&W has already signed on, and the county has until August to get the letter from UP.
Modrell said Wednesday the path will not be in railroad right-of-way from start to finish. “There will be pinch points,” she said. “The representative from UP said he would be willing to talk about the pinch points. But we don’t know where they are until we do the design. It’s like the chicken and the egg.”
Modrell didn’t give the representative’s name and didn’t know where he was in UP’s corporate structure, but she said he doesn’t work out of the company’s headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska.
“But we understand we’ll get the letter,” she said. - The Corvallis Gazette-Times
LOCOMOTIVE FIRES UP FOR TRIP TO IOWA
DES MOINES, IA --
Railroad buffs, wide-eyed children and folks simply enamored by high-speed steam trains will get an eyeful next week when a historic locomotive owned by the Union Pacific Railroad pulls a set of old-fashioned rail cars through Iowa.
Steam locomotive No. 844, which provided passenger and freight service from 1944 through 1959, will spend three days in Iowa as part of a six-state, 16-day journey dubbed the "Corn Belt Rocket Tour."
The train will leave Fremont, Nebraska, on Tuesday morning, heading across western Iowa to Denison, where it will make a brief stop. The train then steams east on Tuesday afternoon to Boone, where it will be on display all day Wednesday during a layover.
On June 28, the train will leave Boone, making a brief stop in southeast Des Moines before heading to Carlisle for another quick visit. The train then travels south to Trenton, Missouri.
"We have one of the largest fleets of heritage steam locomotives, and heritage rail cars as well. This is an opportunity to educate the public about the evolution of an industry that dates back more than 140 years," said James Barnes, a spokesman at Union Pacific headquarters in Omaha.
Eliot Keller of Iowa City, excursion chairman for the Iowa Association of Railroad Passengers, said he hopes the train's visit spurs more interest in the possibility of expanding Amtrak service in Iowa. Amtrak recently completed a report on the potential for restoring rail passenger service from Chicago to Dubuque, and a study is under way on a possible route from Chicago to Iowa City via the Quad Cities.
"This is a big deal," Keller said. "Steam locomotives generate a tremendous amount of interest and fascination. Each machine has its own personality, belching steam and smoke and creaking and groaning."
The Corn Belt Rocket Tour begins Friday when the train leaves Cheyenne, Wyo., enroute to North Platte, Nebraska, with a dip into Colorado. The locomotive will pull about 10 rail cars, including some passenger cars, although tickets won't be sold to the public, Barnes said.
No. 844 was the last steam locomotive built for the Union Pacific. When diesel-electric locomotives took over passenger train duties, No. 844 was placed in freight service in Nebraska between 1957 and 1959. It was saved from the scrap heap in 1960.
A global positioning satellite transmitter has been installed on one of the cars that will travel with No. 844. This will enable people to monitor the train's trip through the Midwest on the Union Pacific's Internet site at [www.up.com
]. - William Petroski, The Des Moines Register
NORFOLK SOUTHERN ENGINEER TO GO TO TRIAL
SMETHPORT, PA --
The engineer of the Norfolk Southern train that derailed near Gardeau last June has opted to stand trial rather than enter a plea to charges in the case.
On Thursday in McKean County Court, neither Michael Seifert, 46, of Buffalo, N.Y., nor his attorney, Paul Malizia of Emporium, were present. However, District Attorney John Pavlock said he had spoken to Malizia.
"It is my understanding the case is for trial," Pavlock said. Seifert is charged with causing a catastrophe, risking a catastrophe and recklessly endangering another person. He remains free on $20,000 bail.
Seifert was operating the southbound train June 30, 2006, when it derailed after speeding down from the crest of Keating Summit at 70 mph. The resulting 31-car pile-up caused 42,000 gallons of lye to leak into the ground and Sinnemahoning-Portage Creek.
The railroad was fined $8.89 million for violations of the state's Clean Stream Laws and Solid Waste Management and Hazardous Sites Cleanup acts.
Seifert was fired from Norfolk Southern after the derailment. - The Bradford Era (Bradford, PA)
TRAIN OPERATOR FIRED OVER WRONG-WAY INCIDENT
HOUSTON, TX --
The Metropolitan Transit Authority has fired the operator of a light rail train involved in a May 9 incident in which her train crossed over to the opposite track, creating the potential for a wrong-way collision.
Metro spokeswoman Raequel Roberts said La Shonda Gordon, 37, was let go Friday. She was hired Feb. 23, and at the time of the incident had been at the controls less than three weeks.
Metro officials said their investigation showed Gordon had been waved through by a member of a work crew. The switch was in a position to send the train to the opposite track because the work crew was testing a signal at the site. The switch was supposed to be returned to its normal position before the train passed.
Gordon phoned dispatchers at the Houston TranStar control center for guidance -- an act that may have prevented a collision -- after proceeding to the TMC Transit Center station.
But Metro also said she should not have proceeded to the opposite track without first getting permission.
"I think I was railroaded," Gordon said earlier this week. "I'm the only one that got fired and I don't think the action deserved for me to get fired. I thought I should be retrained, and so did my supervisor and his supervisor."
Gordon said she was told that she was being fired for "unsafe train operation." Gordon said she knows other operators who have made mistakes and not been fired.
Roberts said a dispatcher at TranStar involved in the incident remains suspended without pay as an investigation by the American Public Transportation Association continues. - Rad Sallee, The Houston Chronicle
FREMONT OFFICIALS REVIEW REGIONAL RAIL PLAN
FREMONT, CA --
Fremont City Council got a glimpse Tuesday of a regional rail plan with an objective to bring rail transportation to the entire Bay Area.
Tom Matoff of Pennsylvania-based LTK Engineering Services, claimed the plan is to create a safe, fast and reliable passenger and freight rail network to all nine Bay Area counties.
Matoff said the rail system would be incorporated into existing transportation routes.
Involving a 50-year strategic plan, Matoff said the project is required under Measure 2, a 2004 voter-approved traffic relief proposition.
The measure increased bridge tolls by $1, raising $125 million annually for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a regional transit body.
The measure also allocated $4.5 million for a regional rail plan.
According to Matoff, the need for such a system is evident, claiming by the year 2050, the Bay Area's population is estimated to be at 10 million.
He said Sacramento's population is estimated to grow by 132 percent, and the population of San Joaquin County is expected to grow by 201 percent.
"This plan is not limited to the nine-county Bay Area," Matoff said. "The MTC is also working with Sacramento and San Joaquin County to develop a system connected to the Bay Area."
Matoff said by 2030, most Bay Area counties would be highly congested.
Alameda County, he suggested, will see an increase of 267 percent in delay hours for commuters.
If a motorist, for example, spends one hour driving from Fremont to Pleasanton now, they can expect their commute time to increase by more than 2.5 hours by 2030, he said.
Santa Clara County commuters will see a 133-percent increase in traffic delay hours, and San Francisco will see a 189-percent increase, he claimed.
Additionally, several corridors in the Bay Area will see significant vehicle trips by 2030, according to Matoff.
"It hardly seems possible, but peak commutes will then spread into the early evenings all over the Bay Area," Matoff said.
Before embarking on a regional rail plan, Matoff claimed MTC needed to look at issues pertaining to both Bay Area Rapid Transit, and standard railroad systems.
BART issues needing examination include whether the agency wants to continue outward expansion, and explore skip-stop/express operation, among others.
Issues under the microscope include the attitude of railroad companies when it comes to shared tracks, speed, and rail electrification, among others.
Matoff noted the possibility of the Bay Area turning toward high speed rail, which also raised questions, such as in what direction will a potential high speed rail system run.
Matoff said there are 12 study alternatives for regional rail, three of which are options without high-speed rail.
Three other options include high-speed rail entering from the south via San Jose. Three others include high-speed rail entering from the east via the Tri-Valley area (shown on map).
Matoff said a draft plan for regional rail is slated for release in August, with a final plan and MTC adoption by September.
Council members said many issues and concerns weren't covered in the plan, including environmental impacts and noise.
"If we're going to do something as massive as this, we ought to look at alternatives to polluting trains, instead of where we're going to put tracks," Mayor Bob Wasserman said.
Wasserman also pointed out that there is still no formal plan for BART to extend into San Jose from Fremont.
When the issue of noise along rail systems was presented, Matoff said the plan would specifically require quiet zones along selected parts of rail.
He also said some of the plan will require grade separations. But he did not specify which sections of rail will require those features.
Matoff noted Tuesday's presentation did not cover the entire plan, which was more comprehensive.
"This overall view is much more complicated than what we've seen," Councilman Steve Cho said. "I'm not going to pretend to understand it all. But I think I need to see a lot more before I can comment on what choices we have for this plan."
The regional rail project can be viewed online at [www.bayarearailplan.info
]. - Wes Bowers, The Fremont Bulletin
COUNTY WANTS TO SWAP BUSES FOR TRAINS
EAGLE COUNTY, CO --
There would be something “very Colorado” about taking a winding valley train ride to Vail Mountain on a powder day, says Eagle resident Bette Glinney.
A regular bus rider in the ski season, she likes hearing that a passenger train running from Dotsero to Vail could someday replace our ECO buses.
“We were built on trains -- I’d like to go back to that,” she said.
ECOtransit is on a train campaign, trying to convince town leaders that a passenger railway is the best way to keep people moving in our very congested future. With the Eagle County population expected to double in the next 30 years, it’s either this or eight-lane highways to keep up with the inevitable surge in traffic, said David Johnson, a county transit planner.
“Is that the kind of future we want for Eagle County?” asks Johnson of a mega highway.
The county would rather see trains.
There’s more to it though than convincing leaders and the public that it’s a good idea -- towns will have to change the way they grow and develop. A passenger railway can only work if communities start preparing now for a more pedestrian-centered lifestyle, Johnson said.
This means developing dense town centers where people live, shop and eat all in the same area. Everything should be in walking distance. Towns without their own bus routes will have to create bus routes to feed into the long stretching train line. Towns will have to build centrally located transit hubs — possible spots for those hubs should be picked out now.
Towns would also have to help with the bill.
Basically, every community in the valley has to be on board for a passenger railway to work, said ECO director Harry Taylor. Vail and Avon are already headed firmly in that direction -- other towns have a long way to go, he said.
Overall, the mission is to get people off the roads, a mighty goal for a society dependent on cars.
“If we could keep someone off the bus or train and walking, that’s a success,” Taylor said. “We need to solve the need for vehicle trips.”
With the wealthy baby boomer generation buying more and more second homes and with lots of low wage labor needed to build them, there won’t be enough affordable housing to go around in the future, Johnson said. The county predicts that by 2025, Eagle County will be importing more than 30,000 workers daily to make up for the affordable housing shortfall.
Overall, the county expects the number of vehicle trips to increase by 171 percent by 2030. That means for every car on the road in 2000, there will be 2.7 cars on the road in 2030 and maybe more, Johnson said.
And already, people really do use the buses here. Eagle County ranks second highest in the state, just below Pitkin County, for the percentage of work trips made on public transportation, according to a county traffic study. ECO transit, along with Avon and Vail’s bus systems, transport more than 5 million people a year, Johnson said.
Who’s on board?
So far, a town like Avon has the right idea, Taylor said. Their new transportation center is being built with a passenger railway in mind. They already have a highly used bus system. The town’s urban renewal is expected to bring the kind of bustling mix of shops, restaurants and homes that would perfectly fit in the county’s vision for keeping cars off the streets.
Ideally, trains would only have one stop in each town, and that’s why towns like Eagle, Gypsum, Minturn and Edwards must develop their own bus systems, Taylor said. So far, they all seem willing to plan for them in the future.
“We’d like to be a part of it, and we have locations where we can connect to a rail station,” Eagle town planner Bill Gray said. “The big question for the future though is how are we going to pay for it?”
While not as far along as Avon and Vail, Eagle’s long-term plans include a possible bus system and dense, pedestrian-centered developments like the Eagle River Station.
Minturn is considering developing the rail yard near Chili Willy’s an
d extending Main Street. That kind of development would also be a good location for a transit hub, said town planner Chris Cerimele, who likes the idea of passenger trains in the valley. He believes the town is taking the right steps in planning for one in the future.
“Minturn was a railroad community to begin with -- we should celebrate and promote that heritage,” Cerimele said. - Matt Terrell, The Vaily Daily News